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Proactive policing unit reinstated in Owen Sound

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A dedicated proactive policing unit is back on the city’s streets.

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The Owen Sound Police Service has revived its Community Oriented Response (CORE) Unit, disbanded several years ago due to staffing shortages.

Police Chief Craig Ambrose said a decision late last year to add two more full-time officers to the department’s roster paved the way for the return of the unit, which will see an officer providing targeted, high-visibility policing in hotspot areas, along with the downtown core, parks and parts of the city frequented by tourists.

“Certainly, it helps to deal with recurring incidents and hopefully come up with some strategies to deal with those in a more proactive manner and to avoid downstream where it turns to crime and criminal charges,” he said Wednesday in an interview.

Const. Chevonne Martin, an Owen Sound police officer for 12 years, has been reassigned to the CORE Unit.

Ambrose said he’d like to add a second officer, but that will depend on staffing resources.

Martin will be working to build relationships with people who may be marginalized or disadvantaged and who would benefit from additional supports or resources in the community.

She will meet with business owners, community members and other stakeholders to find out how to best offer policing support in her new role.

Ambrose said Martin is also being encouraged to visit neighbourhoods, tourist areas and other gathering locations to help address any concerns or problems before they become more serious.

“I’m thrilled to have this unit back. Certainly, always reacting isn’t the best way,” he said.

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Crime prevention is one of the focuses of a recently approved community safety and well-being plan, which aims to refocus efforts and investments away from incident-driven downstream responses and towards so-called upstream actions related to prevention and social development.

Other priority areas in the plan include housing and homelessness, low incomes and poverty.

“This is an important part of our policing strategy moving forward – to be able to work proactively in addressing community concerns and focusing on areas most in need of policing support and interventions,” Ambrose said of the CORE Unit.

Reinstating CORE was a direct result, he said, of the Owen Sound Police Service Board “recognizing the importance of this type of response option here in Owen Sound and approving the required staffing increase to make it a reality.”

The police department’s 2021 budget included a 2.73 per cent spending increase due, in part, to a decision to hire two more full-time police officers to ensure what Ambrose called at the time “adequate and effective policing” in Owen Sound.

Ambrose said the city had gone from 40 full-time and three part-time officers in 2011 to 37 full-time and five part-time officers in 2020.

He called that staffing model unsustainable, as the department’s calls for service had jumped over that same period by 20 per cent, while the city’s crime severity index climbed by 67 per cent and yearly criminal charge violations more than doubled.

While presenting the department’s budget to city council in December, Ambrose said Owen Sound is unique to most cities its size because it’s an employment and commercial hub as opposed to a bedroom community of a larger city. Social service and support agencies are also centralized in Owen Sound, which concentrates a marginalized population, he said. Homelessness, mental health and addiction are significant drivers of police calls for service, he said.

The two new hires would return the number of full-time-equivalent officers to 2011 levels, he said.

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